Monday 9 July 2018
'Ercole col centauro Nesso' – 'Hercules Slaying the Centaur Nessus' – can be found within Florence's Piazza della Signoria, among the square's other famous marble occupants. The statue was completed by Giambologna in 1599 and embodies the fine sense of action and movement the sculptor was famous for.
Showing an advanced understanding of anatomy – visible in Hercules' rib cage, showing through his taut skin and the veined legs of the centaur, poised in battle – Giambologna's statue is a powerful evocation of the strength of mortal man.
Greatly influenced by Michelangelo, but an expert in his own mannerist style, Giambologna's stone carvings exhibit a focus on beauty rather than emotion. Under the influence of Georgio Vasari, Giambologna became one of the Medici's most important court sculptors. Fearing he could be enticed into full-time employment by the Spanish or Austrian Habsburgs he was interred in a chapel of his own design in the Santissima Annuniziata – a basilica in Florence.
In Greek mythology, it is the robe of Nessus, poisoned with the slain centaur's blood that kills Hercules after his wife gives it to him, burning Hercules and compelling him to throw himself on a funeral pyre. Metaphorically the 'Robe of Nessus' represents a source of inescapable misfortune and features in the works of Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot and Alexandre Dumas. 'Ercole col centauro Nesso' or 'Hercules Slaying the Centaur Nessus' can be found within Florence's Piazza della Signoria (PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK BAKER)